New Court Docs Suggest FBI Allegedly Spied on US Senator
The FBI has come under scrutiny for inappropriately using an intelligence provision meant for monitoring foreign nationals to search for information on a U.S. senator, according to a court opinion released on Friday. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealed that the FBI conducted these searches under the powers derived from Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but failed to meet the required conditions. The searches also included a state senator and a judge, raising concerns about the misuse of surveillance powers.
The court opinion, authored by Judge Rudolph Contreras, disclosed that an analyst conducted four queries using the last names of a U.S. senator and a state senator, without any further limitations. These searches were conducted without meeting the necessary criteria set by the National Security Division at the Department of Justice. Although the court acknowledged that a specific foreign intelligence service was investigating two of the individuals, the FBI failed to provide sufficient justification for their searches.
Additionally, the opinion revealed that information on the judge was accessed after he had accused a police chief of civil rights violations. A staff operations specialist ran a query using the judge’s Social Security number, following the judge’s complaint to the FBI. These actions raise concerns about the FBI’s adherence to proper protocols and the potential violation of civil rights.
The court opinion shed light on the extent of the misuse of Section 702 by the FBI. Previous documentation from the case indicated that this provision had been misused over 278,000 times to collect information on American citizens. The opinion’s release came about after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit to make it public. The opinion, dated April 2023, prompted calls for fundamental reforms to address the FBI’s unauthorized searches on public officials, including a U.S. senator.
Patrick Toomey, from the ACLU National Security Project, highlighted the urgent need for Congress to intervene and implement necessary reforms. He emphasized that the FBI’s continuous disregard for the rules and illegal searches demonstrate the critical need for change, particularly as Congress debates reauthorizing Section 702. These court opinions serve as a reminder of the importance of safeguarding civil rights and liberties while ensuring national security.
FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged the FBI’s missteps and assured the public that substantial reforms have been implemented to address the misuse of Section 702. He emphasized that compliance is an ongoing endeavor and that additional accountability measures have been put in place. Wray reaffirmed the FBI’s commitment to utilizing Section 702 authorities for protecting American lives and national security, while upholding civil rights and liberties.
Section 702, first implemented in 2008, allows intelligence agencies to obtain online communications of foreign nationals without a warrant. Despite initial skepticism, then-President Donald Trump renewed this power in 2018, even after questioning its credibility due to its connection to the discredited Steele Dossier, which claimed evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump’s decision to renew Section 702 came after discussions with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Intelligence officials have been urging lawmakers to renew Section 702 at the end of the year. However, some lawmakers remain skeptical, especially given concerns about the FBI’s potential politicization and the unauthorized searches of public officials. The revelations in the court opinion further fuel the debate surrounding the reauthorization of Section 702, highlighting the need for careful consideration of civil liberties and the prevention of abuse of power.
The recent court opinion exposing the FBI’s inappropriate use of an intelligence provision to target a U.S. senator has raised serious concerns about the misuse of surveillance powers and violations of civil rights. The revelation that Section 702 was misused over 278,000 times to collect information on American citizens underscores the urgent need for fundamental reforms. As Congress debates the reauthorization of Section 702, it is essential to strike a balance between national security and safeguarding civil liberties. The FBI’s implementation of accountability measures and commitment to upholding civil rights and liberties is a step in the right direction. However, continual oversight and reform are necessary to prevent further abuses of power and to restore public trust in intelligence agencies.